Children and Families Bill

Memorandum submitted by the British Psychological Society (CF 95)

About the Society

The British Psychological Society, incorporated by Royal Charter, is the learned and professional body for psychologists in the United Kingdom. We are a registered charity with a total membership of just over 50,000.

Under its Royal Charter, the objective of the British Psychological Society is "to promote the advancement and diffusion of the knowledge of psychology pure and applied and especially to promote the efficiency and usefulness of members by setting up a high standard of professional education and knowledge". We are committed to providing and disseminating evidence-based expertise and advice, engaging with policy and decision makers, and promoting the highest standards in learning and teaching, professional practice and research.

The British Psychological Society is an examining body granting certificates and diplomas in specialist areas of professional applied psychology.

Publication and Queries

We are content for the Education Select Committee to contact us in the future in relation to this Call for Evidence.

About this Response

This response was prepared for the British Psychological Society by Dr Jaime Craig , CPsychol AFBPsS, Division of Clinical Psychology and Faculty for Children and Young People

Ms Jane Marriott, CPsychol AFBPsS, Division of Educational and Child Psychology.

We hope you find our comments useful.

British Psychological Society response to the House of Commons Public Bill Committee call for written evidence

The Children and Families Bill

The British Psychological Society (the Society) thanks the House of Commons Public Bill Committee for the opportunity to respond to this call for written evidence. The Society would welcome the opportunity to address the select committee on some or all of these issues .

11 Welfare of the child: parental involvement

(1) Section 1 of the Children Act 1989 (welfare of the child) is amended as follows.

(6) In subsection (2A) "parent" means parent of the child concerned; and, for the purposes of that subsection, a parent of the child concerned - (a) is within this paragraph if that parent can be involved in the child’s life in a way that does not put the child at risk of suffering harm; and (b) is to be treated as being within paragraph (a) unless there is some evidence before the court in the particular proceedings to suggest that involvement of that parent in the child’s life would put the child at risk of suffering harm whatever the form of the involvement.

Re 6 (a) We suggest that further clarity is needed in respect of what would constitute evidence in relation to emotional harm in particular as this is often highlighted as a concern but frequently disputed. It is important to understand that to make an effective assessment of such risk requires a systemic understanding of both the child’s psychological functioning and that of the adult(s) concerned. This is an area in which the skills of psychologist experts have been crucial within the family courts by providing an assessment of these interacting factors.

10 Family mediation information and assessment meetings

(1) Before making a relevant family application, a person must attend a family mediation information and assessment meeting.

In broad terms the provision of effective and early mediation in the context of family applications is welcomed. However, it is suggested that the term ‘Family mediation information and assessment meetings’ might inadvertently give the impression of an assessment broader than actually envisaged. The Bill describes this as an assessment of "the suitability of mediation, or of any such other way of resolving disputes, for trying to resolve any dispute to which the particular application relates." Significant care will be needed to ensure that complexity of such situations are properly understood, particularly when there are issues of mental health, cognitive impairment etc. Ideally family mediators would have access to psychological supervision for this work to assist in highlighting when further assessment and or intervention is required. The assessment of treatability, and specifically capacity to change in relation to inter-personal functioning would be outside the scope of such meetings and would require expert psychological assessment.

We would wish to note a concern regarding the requirement for mediation and suggest that further clarity is given regarding the situations when such requirement is not assumed. In particular where there has been domestic violence or one partner has been controlling or emotionally abusive to the other.

13 Control of expert evidence, and of assessments, in children proceedings

"(7A) A direction under subsection (6) to the effect that there is to be a medical or psychiatric examination or other assessment of the child may be given only if the court is of the opinion that the examination or other assessment is necessary to assist the court to resolve the proceedings justly.

It is suggested that in each section it would be more accurate to include ‘psychological’ in this sentence – ‘psychiatric’ could be subsumed under ‘medical’ but this would be distinct from ‘psychological’ assessments. The latter are a very large proportion of the expert reports within family proceedings. Typically within family court such psychological expert assessments are not just of the child but also parent/carers and combined assessments of families, it would be helpful to refer to this.

The Society is currently involved in a collaboration with the Family Justice Council developing standards and best practice guidelines for psychological expert witnesses in the Family Courts and recommendations for when psychological experts can appropriately be instructed. It is hoped that the conclusions and recommendations from this working group can be incorporated into these proposed changes.

The Society welcomes the removal of unnecessary delay being from family court proceedings and it is recognised that financial constraints require serious diligence. However, we are concerned that financial pressures may override what is best for children and families. If the court process becomes too rigid there is a risk that the need for every case to be treated according to its unique individual circumstances will be lost. For example, through the provision of high quality and timely expert psychological opinion and synthesising multi-factorial information, providing evidence-based intervention options at the individual, family and system level, alongside reliable information about treatability, likelihood of change and timescales. The provision of such information early in proceedings can assist to reduce delays in making appropriate decisions. We believe that it is important to consider other ways in which timescales can be reduced.

An additional concern is that removing the care plan from the scope of the hearing will leave very important details undefined and without sufficient scrutiny, such as the level and type of contact, and what services are needed to support the plan.

Children and Families Bill

Part 3 - Children and young people in England with special educational needs

Duty of health bodies to bring certain children to local authority’s attention

(1) This section applies where, in the course of exercising functions in relation to a child who is under compulsory school age, a clinical commissioning group, NHS trust or NHS foundation trust form the opinion that the child has (or probably has) special educational needs. (2) The group or trust must- (a) inform the child’s parent of their opinion and of their duty under subsection (3), and (b) give the child’s parent an opportunity to discuss their opinion with an officer of the group or trust. (3) The group or trust must then bring their opinion to the attention of the appropriate local authority in England.

This duty is welcomed and is entirely within the spirit of effective cooperation and integration, and reinforces what would be expected of good clinical practice for psychologists working in health to share assessments and concerns regarding a young person’s learning needs. It is suggested that there will be a need for information about this duty to be disseminated clearly across Health groups and trusts including information about procedures.

Children and Families Bill

Part 3 - Children and young people in England with special educational needs

27 Duty to keep education and care provision under review

(1) A local authority in England must keep under review- (a) the special educational provision and social care provision made in its area for children and young people who have special educational needs, and (b) the special educational provision and social care provision made outside its area for children and young people for whom it is responsible who have special educational needs.

(2) The authority must consider the extent to which the provision referred to in subsection (1)(a) and (b) is sufficient to meet the special educational needs and social care needs of the children and young people concerned.

Duty to keep education and care provision under review (3) In exercising its functions under this section, the authority must consult- (a) children and young people with special educational needs, and the parents of children with special educational needs, in its area; (b) the governing bodies of maintained schools and maintained nursery schools in its area; (c) the proprietors of Academies in its area; (d) the governing bodies, proprietors or principals of post-16 institutions in its area; (e) the governing bodies of non-maintained special schools in its area; (f) the advisory boards of children’s centres in its area; (g) the providers of relevant early years education in its area; (h) the governing bodies, proprietors or principals of other schools and post-16 institutions in England and Wales that the authority thinks are or are likely to be attended by children or young people for whom it is responsible; (i) a youth offending team that the authority thinks has functions in relation to children or young people for whom it is responsible;(j) such other persons as the authority thinks appropriate.

It is suggested that the list of agencies the authority must also consult should also include local Specialist Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), who are likely to have significant involvement with children with special education needs and/or children who are looked after, and their families/carers. Typically CAMHS Clinicians working with these young people and their families/carers will be able to offer a great deal of information around the extent to which their current provision is meeting their needs, in particular their mental health needs. It is consistent with the thrust of the Bill towards integration that this agency is consulted as part of these rev iews.

The Society welcomes the focus in the Bill on greater integrated working across agencies and increased involvement of young people and parent-carers. The increased scope of the new EHC assessments and plans to encompass health and social care needs offers a chance to reduce the overlap and repetition within the system at the moment. This way, professionals can be freed up to work more closely with parents/carers as partners and in a joined up way around the family and young person. The single combined assessment enables a more holistic picture of the child or young person's needs and how interacting factors across a number of systems impact on the child and young person's education and wellbeing. Therefore, it enables the interventions and provisions necessary to achieve positive educational and wider life outcomes.

It should be noted however that a quality assessment for EHC, that truly integrates professional understanding with parental knowledge may take longer rather than less time so reducing timescales could carry risks that should be evaluated and monitored. It is our view that it is the quality of the assessment and the extent to which it leads to effective and appropriate interventions and provision which should be of key importance, rather than small changes in the speed of such plans being developed.

The joint commissioning duty offers more encouragement than current legislation to joint working, strategic planning and accountability in relation to the needs of pupils with SEND. This is welcomed.

 

Lastly the single EHC plan replacing LDAs for older pupils is a positive move as it should promote better integrated working across children's and adult's agencies to support the transition to adulthood and into employment.

April 2013

Prepared 24th April 2013